16 September 2018

Crimea

“One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 

For several years now we’ve been reading political news that mentions Russia’s “invasion”, “overthrow”, or, most frequently, “annexation” of Crimea.

Let’s look at a little history even though “little” doesn’t seem quite right since Crimea’s history is astonishingly complex considering that its land area is barely larger than Vermont.  But see, it sits at a crossroads, which makes it a desirable little piece of real estate, nowadays especially for Russia since its Black Sea port at Sevastopol provides Russia’s only warm water port.

If you want a short history of Crimea, i recommend the Wikipedia entry and the Encyclopedia Britannica article.  Put them together to get an overall view and then go chasing down subreferences to find material expanding and even contradicting your previous understanding.  But here’s my brief summary.

Since about 1000 BCE, Crimea has been occupied by, leaving out the ones i never heard of – the Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Goths, Bulgars, Huns, Mongols, Byzantines, and the Ottomans until, after 1478 as the Crimean Khanate, it enjoyed a measure of self rule as a vassal state of the Ottomans.  During those glorious three centuries it became a major force in the slave trade by raiding north into Ukraine and Russia to capture Slavs.  The accounts vary, but the lowest number i’ve read is a million.  They put a few to work in their fields and galleys, but the great majority fetched a fine price in the slave markets of Constantinople.  The Ottomans just loved ’em with blond hair and blue eyes.

But all good things come to an end, and finally, in 1783, Catherine the Great welcomed Crimea into Russia after she’d defeated the Turks although, as in all the previous changes of government, the Crimeans were not consulted.  Nor were they for the next two centuries as the status of the Crimean SSR within the Soviet Union shifted, and most especially they weren’t consulted in 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev gave them as a present to the Ukrainian SSR.

Not that this gave the vast majority of them any reason to give up speaking Russian and learn Ukrainian.  Nor did the collapse of the Soviet Union leaving Ukraine an independent nation in 1991.  And they still hadn’t started calling themselves Ukrainians in 2014, two generations after Khrushchev’s behest, when Ukrainian President Yanukovych, in response to a revolution of his disloyal constituents, managed to escape with his family on an unscheduled permanent vacation to Russia.

Immediately after Yanukovych arrived in Russia, masked gunmen, later determined to be members of the Russian military, took control of the parliamentary buildings in Crimea.  Then, in quick succession, Russian troops moved in to protect the Crimeans from the Ukrainians. The next month, the parliament voted to secede from the Ukraine and rejoin Russia, and a referendum was held.

This was the first time in history that the Crimeans had been given any say in their destiny, so of course the referendum became a vexed issue.  To begin with, the Tatars, a sizable minority in Crimea with a long history of opposition to Russia, declared a boycott, but as always the boycotters knew they were going to lose, so they declared the boycott in order to cast doubt on the validity of the election.

And yes, there were doubts, and irregularities were reported, the greatest of which being the absence of outside observers.  Still, by all accounts the overwhelming majority of the Crimeans voted Yes.  The Ukrainian government naturally declared the referendum unconstitutional, and the United States and almost all other countries sided with Ukraine.

And yet, yet, were the Crimeans marched to the polls with guns at their heads and forced to vote Yes?  The Crimeans who had for two generations after they were forcibly given to Ukraine steadfastly continued to think of themselves as Russians and had refused to even learn the language of their new benefactors.  The Crimeans who, as Russian forces rolled in, had failed to fight them tooth and nail but rather, as Paul Wolfowitz famously predicted the Iraqis would, greeted the invaders with rose petals.

Look, i’m not pro-Russian.  I think Vladimir Putin is a KGB thug. But still, from all i’ve been able to read, the Crimeans, like the citizens of the eastern Ukrainian provinces, thought of themselves as Russians and welcomed the Russians with open arms.

Is it really an annexation or invasion when the populace view themselves as being rescued?  Which leads me to think about this country’s long-standing lip service to democracy in other nations and then realize that we should add the caveat, “unless the citizens might make a decision of which we disapprove”.

Meanwhile, anti-skateboard devices are usually just ugly little bars attached to the edges of concrete walls, but here’s one showing some imagination:  metal ginko leaves:

ginko leaves as anti-skateboard device

 

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